Book Review: The RavineJan 06, 2022
Last week I was on Instagram and someone shared this book, The Ravine. A Family, A Photograph, A Holocaust Massacre Revealed. While I enjoy reading WWII history and historical fiction, it has to really grab my attention. This book did that as I read the description about one photograph taken in the Ukraine (which I really have not studied), that the historian author wanted to learn more about. As a family and military historian, photos are important to me so I wondered what I could learn by reading this book.
The book is 258 pages long but only 178 pages contain the story. The rest of the book is notes. Notes are extremely important to anyone doing serious research because they can lead us to new records, books, oral histories, and answers to our research questions. For those that like to continue exploring a topic after reading a book, this one will not disappoint.
If you looked at my copy of the book you'd see 15-20 colored tabs sticking off certain pages that spoke to me. Some of these pages contain the author's deep exploration of photography, how we view individual photos, what they can tell us about history that we probably missed, and how they can lead us to more research. I had no idea just how powerful photos could be when you question them from all these different angles.
Through the story we learn about one town in the Ukraine, Miropol, during the war years. We get to know some of the people who lived there and also the invaders. We also learn that while the Nazis documented everything they did, photographs of the actual murders of Jews or anyone the Nazis felt were "undesirable" or "unworthy of life" were prohibited. However, humans will often do what they want, so some photographs of the murders exist, including the one on which this book is based.
We also learn about the other perpetrators of the mass murder of so many during the war (Jews, Gypsies, Civilians, Political prisoners, homosexuals, etc.). These perpetrators may have had no choice, except death, had they not participated. We hear of local girls being forced to dig the mass grave sites before the murders took place. We hear of neighbors turning their Jewish neighbors into the Nazis and local Ukrainian police. A lot is shared about the local police, businessmen, finance officers, and others in Ukrainian society (and all European countries really) joining the Nazis so they would have perks or protection. Or perhaps they felt that was the only way to survive - just "follow orders." Is this right or wrong?
Another thing I learned is about Jewish Culture and Women. The author explains that Jewish women were taught to obey, sacrifice, not to resist, not to defy men. When we look at cultural beliefs around the world and see generations of this kind of programming into people, it becomes more understandable why people did not fight back (at all, enough) during the war and why so many Jewish mothers went to their deaths with their children. When we look at this kind of cultural/family programming in our own families, if we are honest enough about what it means for us today, we may discover this no longer serves us to just obey. All you have to do is look around the world since March 2020 when the illness hit the world and how the media, government, religion, education, big tech, pharma, all those "in charge" perpetuated the fear and myth of it all - to see how people are so culturally programmed to just obey instead of think critically for themselves. It's something worth considering as you look at your own cultural indoctrination.
Susan Sontag, a cultural critic I learned about in another Holocaust book questions if the shock of atrocities wears off after a while. Her thinking is that if we continually see shocking photos that at some point they will not affect us. We'll be desensitized. At this point in my many years of WWI and WWII research, there are no longer many photos that shock or disgust me. Am I desensitized or have I learned to shield my energy so I don't absorb what took place in the photos? Maybe a little of both. You can't do this often gruesome war work without energetic protection.
I have also seen quotes where Susan asks if we even should be viewing photos of atrocities (murder, rape, torture, etc.). Is this an invasion of privacy? I think each of us has our own perspective on this.
The book was an interesting and quick read. I learned a lot about the war in the Ukraine and more about what happened to the "undesirables". I also have a lot to sit with and journal about as it relates to the questions the author posed in the book and her explanations of looking beyond that first layer of what a photo contains. In the end did the author find out exactly who all the people were in the photo? You'll have to read the book to find out.
If you are interested in your family's photos or photos taken during historical events, this book will give you a much needed education so you look beyond the surface. And isn't that really what historical research is about? Going beyond the surface? I think so. To truly bring to life our ancestors or those we research, we need to learn as much as possible beyond names, dates, and places. We need to be courageous enough to dive into the layers, no matter what we may discover.
I liked this author enough that I ordered her other book, Hitler's Furies. I will share some thoughts about that soon.
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